Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1072
A young mother: blonde Englishwoman, symbolizes British womanhood
A subaltern: British army officer of lower rank, supports Major Callendar
Mr. Amritrao: an Oxford educated, Hindu Calcutta barrister, notoriously anti-British
Mr. McBryde detains Aziz, explaining that he may be released on bail. When Fielding arrives, McBryde explains the charge to him. Fielding asks to see Miss Quested, but his request is denied. He declares that he believes Aziz is innocent. His request to see Aziz is also denied. The contents of Aziz’s table-drawer are brought in; Mr. McBryde says triumphantly, “Photographs of women.” Fielding explains that the photograph is of Aziz’s wife.
Hamidullah is waiting outside the superintendent’s office. He prattles to Fielding about policy and evidence. Concentrating wholly on Aziz’s innocence, he is aware of how his reactions differ from those of the Indians with whom he has decided to side. Hamidullah wants to hire Amritrao, a noted Calcutta barrister, to defend Aziz. He believes having a Hindu in charge of the defense will widen its appeal.
Fielding next has a vague talk with Godbole. The professor talks of other matters and seems unconcerned about Aziz. He says he is to start a high school in Central India, in the state of Mau.
Fielding begs him for a personal opinion on Aziz’s innocence or guilt. Godbole dissolves the question into an abstract discussion of good and evil.
Fielding obtains a permit to see Aziz, who is miserable and unapproachable, charging the Englishman with having deserted him. Without much hope, Fielding writes a letter to Miss Quested.
Suddenly feeling that Miss Quested is one of them, the Anglo-Indian women discover a new affection for her. At the Club, a beautiful, young mother is transformed into a symbol of “everything worth fighting and dying for.” The collector takes charge, giving instructions and telling the women that Aziz has been refused bail. Mr. Turton concludes by appealing to the Anglo-Indians not to suspect all Indians just because one has been charged with a crime.
Major Callendar enters; he feels responsible for having given Aziz leave. He uses the subaltern to bait Fielding. Then the Major, who is quite drunk, repeats a series of wild rumors about the way in which Aziz plotted the crime.
Ronny Heaslop enters. Fielding refuses to rise to his feet with the rest. The collector asks why he has refused to stand up. Taking this as the attack that it is, Fielding rises and announces that he believes Aziz is innocent. He resigns from the Club. Mr. Turton, enraged, begins insulting him. His way out is blocked by the subaltern, but Heaslop appeals to him to allow Fielding to go. On the upper verandah, Fielding is invaded by self-doubt and self-questioning.
Mohurram is in the air; drums are beating. The campaign to save Aziz is also heating up. Fielding spends the rest of the evening with Aziz’s friends and defenders. They have received word that Amritrao has agreed to conduct the defense. Now that Miss Quested has been pronounced out of danger, they decide to renew application for bail. Later, Fielding would like to speak to Godbole about his mistake in being rude to Heaslop at the Club, but the professor has slipped away.
The breakdown into herd behavior is almost the opposite of the breakdown that Mrs. Moore suffers in the caves. She is overcome by a sense of the meaningless of all values. The Anglo-Indians are swept away by emotions that assert the absolute primacy of certain collective values. Raw passions that are usually held in control by civilization are reasserting themselves. Fielding continues to be an observer, although he is aware of the danger of becoming caught up in the herd instinct and acts to avoid this.
A musical background is provided by the sound of the drums of Mohurram, which function as a reminder of impending trouble. Mohurram is a festival in which individuality is swallowed up within collective lamentation. Ironically, the Anglo-Indians, who are apprehensive about the riots that may be inspired by the festival, are also experiencing a loss of individuality in collective emotion. Even Anglo-Indians who are ordinarily quite different from each other begin to share the same emotions and reactions. Some of them acquire a symbolic value that overrides their individuality. In this way, Miss Quested, who has previously been barely tolerated as an outsider, becomes “one of us.” The same mechanism turns a young mother everyone has ignored before into a symbol of English values. Heaslop, too, becomes a symbol of innocent suffering.
Two phenomena that are familiar to us appear: social bullying and power politics. Under the cover of his drunkenness, Major Callendar attempts to bully Fielding. When the subaltern becomes Callendar’s willing instrument, the bullying stops just short of a physical attack.
Power politics are undisguised. Fielding is a lone individual against a powerful group. The whole Club turns against him, defining him as a traitor, an enemy, an outsider. The English ideals of justice and fairness are threatened, though not entirely forgotten. Even though Fielding has insulted Heaslop, at this critical moment Heaslop tells the subaltern to let him go.
Social cohesiveness has become paramount for both the Anglo-Indians and the Indians. Just like the Hindus and Muslims after the shootings at Amritsar in 1919, the Hindu and Muslim characters in the novel are beginning to cooperate. There is a newborn Indian desire to bring all Indians together to defend Aziz. His friends gather around him. Fielding is the only Anglo-Indian among them. He will help in Aziz’s defense, yet he is aware of how his attitudes and methods differ from those of the Indians. Although he has allied himself with the Indians, he is an outsider among them, as well.
For Fielding, the central issue is Aziz’s innocence. He is saddened by Hamidullah’s emphasis on policy and evidence. When Fielding attempts to talk to Professor Godbole about the case, the professor talks in abstractions, stating that Good and Evil are both aspects of the Lord, and consist essentially of the presence or absence of God. We all share equally in guilt or innocence, he says. Later on, when Fielding wants to consult him about a matter of conscience—his failure to stand when Heaslop entered the Club—the professor has slipped away. The values Western civilization is based on look very different to the Indians.
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